December 05 2013

Planning Mixed-Income Communities: 5 Ways Yesler Terrace Does it Better

Can the barriers between people at different income levels be broken by simply having them live near each other? Seattle is attempting to answer this question through planned mixed-income communities.

Yesler Terrace is a bold project operated by the Seattle Housing Authority. It aims at completely redefining the area, which happens to be the oldest public housing neighborhood in Seattle. It opened in 1942, when average rent was only $17.75 a month (about $300 today). Times have changed, and so has urban planning. The goals for the area’s redevelopment are large in scope, incorporating cutting-edge design, a more inclusive and engaged community, and a healthy, sustainable environment.

Government efforts to provide housing are often viewed as a failure, but Yesler Terrace takes a more comprehensive approach to offer a better solution. Here are five ways Yesler Terrace does it better:

  1. Opportunity and Comprehensive Services

Yesler Terrace has developed partnerships with various organizations to address the needs of lower-income residents. This includes educational mentoring, financial services, job training from local employers, and more. Opportunity is the motivating concept. Higher income residents will also bring in more resources and pressure for good schools.

Housing near Seattle Downtown Yesler Terrace

  1. Location

The location of Yesler Terrace is its main advantage. In real estate terminology, residents no longer will need to “drive until they qualify,” as affordable housing lies just South-East of downtown Seattle. The area is in close proximity to good jobs, and is supported by a strong infrastructure, including the First Hill Streetcar and Seattle light rail. The area is walkable, which has benefits for public health.

  1. A More Attractive Physical Environment

Design and planning firm Collinswoerman has partnered with the Seattle Housing Authority and committed to transforming the area into a “prototype for urban living in the 21st century.”  Amenities such as green spaces and attractive buildings will add value to the land. This in turn provides incentives for the stewardship needed to make the project a success.

  1. Market-Rate Housing Makes it Possible

Having a certain degree of market-rate housing can support infrastructure and subsidized housing, and is vital to economic sustainability. It is zoned for up to 5,000 total units, which will fully replace the old public housing units with a mix of housing for a wide spectrum of incomes. Without the deliberate mix of incomes, the area would quickly gentrify, becoming exclusive to the people that it is designed to support.

Basketball Court in Yesler Terrace

  1. A Better Model for Financing and Management

Over its five year planning period, the project was strategically phased in with a mix of money from the landowner (the Seattle Housing Authority), the private sector and government. Due to public housing failures of the past, federal initiatives and grants have become available. The project designers of Yesler Terrace also knew that transforming the neighborhood into an amenity-filled urban center would attract private investment and demand. With more stakeholders and better finance, we can be more hopeful that it will stay successful.

Government provided housing is a one-dimensional approach to a multi-faceted issue. The mixed-use community of Yesler Terrace offers a more complete alternative. Do you think this would work in your city?

Credits: Images by Colin Poff. Data linked to sources.

Colin Poff

Colin Poff is a recent graduate from Western Washington University where he studied Political Science and Economics. He currently interns at the City of Redmond, where he is providing research and analysis for the long-range planning department. While traveling in Europe and in China Colin became a critical observer of modern cities, and curious about how policies can be crafted to facilitate economic development with community values in mind. In his career, he would like to make cities more dynamic and livable by encouraging mixed-use areas and people-focused design. Next fall, Colin intends to pursue a Masters in Urban Planning. When he is not in the city, you can find him in the mountains, skiing with his friends.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, December 5th, 2013 at 9:49 am and is filed under Colin Poff, Community/Economic Development, Environmental Design, Government/Politics, History/Preservation, Housing, Social/Demographics, Transportation, Urban Development/Real Estate. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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2 Responses to “Planning Mixed-Income Communities: 5 Ways Yesler Terrace Does it Better”

  1. H. Pike Oliver Says:

    Creating a mixed-income neighborhood is a great idea. But introduction of better off residents may not, by itself, do a lot for the less well off. See this article from the Vancouver Sun (January 2, 2014) that reports on research that concludes that reating mixed-income neighborhoods may not always work to the advantage of lower income residents — http://www.vancouversun.com/travel/Mixed+neighbourhoods+always+good+idea/9344177/story.html

  2. Colin Poff Says:

    Thank’s for the comment! Interesting article by the Vancouver Sun. The social mix is a good alternative to segregation in the past, but is not a panacea. The market-rate housing is a way to make the project viable and the area more vibrant. However, you’re right that this won’t even the playing field. Yesler Terrace seems to take a more “comprehensive” approach, which is a good start, we’ll see what comes of it.

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